Break will soon be upon us (or is upon you, if you get spring recess as well as Easter) so I thought I’d take a minute to address that topic that is the most annoying for those of us getting advanced liberal arts degrees—dealing with relatives during holidays.
And I’m not talking finding ways to distract your younger cousins from your (admittedly AMAZING) Doctor Who Sonic collection or ducking out of an infuriating conversation about politics with your parents.
Oh no. That’s small potatoes. I’m talking about The Big One. The “what exactly are you studying?… (Puzzled silence) And what are you going to do with that?” conversation.
Even as someone who’s been gainfully employed for two years I still shudder at the thought. It’s the question that never goes away, either, because even if you do get a job it just becomes, “and how are you using that degree again?” So don’t get your hopes up History MA. No amount of law school will ever let them forget that you spent two years researching the implications of medieval chastity on the evolution of the church.
Oh and you PhDs who think that “tenure track professor” is an acceptable answer? Yeah right. Your grandparents don’t even understand what tenure is. Is that a real thing? What do you mean you’ll have a job for life? And your uncle? Well he’s been reading the newspaper and it looks like universities are in the “you know what.” How likely are you to get this thing anyway? Is this really how you want to be contributing to the economy?
And don’t even try to explain. Because if you do… oh boy. You’ll just set yourself off in a panic cycle of self-doubt that will cause you to question every decision you’ve ever made since you first watched Indiana Jones in middle school and you will eventually run into the nearest bathroom and frantically look up advertisements for entry-level copy editor positions… Okay, sorry about that. I might be working through some stuff.
But I digress.
People are going to want to talk about the five-year plan you put off by going to grad school, so here are some strategies to evade the inquisition:
- Always be eating. Food in your mouth means they can’t engage—this is where all that insisting you have “manners” turns on them. Getting the food shouldn’t be hard since your family home is likely an embarrassment of food riches. Mom splurged for the brand name cold cuts? Well aren’t we the 1%.
- Hide important containers and utensils. Aunt Suzie circling and about to swoop in to ask you about when you’ll finally be done? Oh wait, you just remembered Dad needs the special casserole dish. [Insert holiday of your denomination here] won’t be same without it! And what’s that Grammy? No salad tongs?! Not on your watch!
- Bring home a significant other. They’ll be so distracted interrogating you about that development they’ll forget all about your schooling. (This is when social norms and the pressure to be “fulfilled” through marriage is actually helpful. Note: This technique tends to work better for women. Sorry guys, but you do make an extra 22 cents on the dollar so… not that sorry.)
- Attach yourself to a needy family member. It can be a kid—hello coloring books, why are you still so fun?—or perhaps a maiden great aunt, but the most important thing to remember is to pick someone who’s going to need your constant supervision and attention. If you’re talking about someone’s rheumatoid arthritis you’re not talking about your dissertation. Bonus, you can go on drink runs if someone tries to corner you—Aunt Bobbi could be dead any minute, so she needs her wine ASAP. Personally, I like to hang with the kids. There tends to be holiday-themed crafts and they always splurge for the good juice during the holiday.
Well there you go—just a few helpful hints to get you through the break. And who knows, maybe you have a unicorn family full of super supportive family members who, like you, see the value in understanding the universe/past/language that influences us all. And if you do, I can only say one thing.
Any more seats for dinner?
- Dewis Shallcross, Director of Student Development, GSAS ‘14